Thursday, January 12, 2012

Why I Hate Religion, But Love Jesus: A Response

I felt the need to respond to a video that appears to have become popular in the internet world as of late:

So here's a few thoughts:
He didn't seem to be doing too poorly until he got to the part where he called religion "the infection." He's operating under the assumption that the organized religion of Christianity is a human institution, which, for the sake of argument, I can agree with, although I tend to believe that God can support and bless the work of humans as he has done in many times and in many places with the Christian religion.
But assuming his stance, he still fails on another point: he is assuming that his loving Jesus somehow comes unmediated through humanity. His loving of Jesus, just as the Christian religion's attempt to faithfully be the body of Christ, comes through humans, making both streams potentially impure. However, the benefit of having the background of the religion is that now you're working with 2000 years and billions of people who can act as boundaries to guide you--something you don't get in the same helpful measure when you distance yourself from organized religion and make it about 'you and Jesus.'
On another note, he makes it seem like there is no value whatsoever in the motions of religion, which, although such motions will not save, they are beneficial in places within the order of salvation. And I would direct him (or others) to James K. A. Smith's discussion of "liturgies" in his book Desiring the Kingdom to better get at some of that.
It's really a case of his misunderstanding what religion fundamentally is from a Christian standpoint; his definition of "Jesus is God searching for man and religion is man searching for God" is simply flawed. It is an accurate secular definition of religion but it is not accurate (or should not be considered accurate) from the standpoint of a Christian. A better Christian definition of religion as far as a Christian is concerned (and I could write papers, books, etc. on this, so don't push it too much) is that it is a Christian response to the grace of Christ.
His claim that organized religion is a human product is accurate, but it is accurate at the same level at which we say the Bible is a human product. God designed it, God ordained it, and God has had his hands in many parts of it. There are parts that the human hand is pretty obvious, and it doesn't end well, so we tread with caution and do our best to parse out what is worth keeping and what isn't. But that means we fight to find the right and the wrong in the Bible (and in organized religion), not completely throw it out.
Finally, his claim that Christ's cry "it is finished" is a little confusing and though I can't say exactly where he took it, the implications are a little problematic. As far as I can tell, it seems to imply, given the previous content, that the need for organized religion is gone. Well, people haven't changed in their need for organization because Jesus died on the cross; at least, I don't think "need for organization" made it into any discussions pertaining to atonement. And in another direction, if we think of Christians as the kingdom of God upon the earth, we generally speak of an "already, but not yet" kingdom, and if you choose to take his statement this direction, he would be implying that it is simply an "already" kingdom.
My older brother Luke once said: "Giving up on religion to follow Jesus is like giving up on marriage to love your wife." If you absolutely have to parse it out, there's one that is more important and more critical than the other. But if you're in a position of needing to divide the two, then you're doing one of the two--or more likely both of them--wrong in some form or another. If your marriage is getting in the way of you loving your wife, then it is true, loving your wife is more important the marriage; but it's also true that you have a misconception of loving your wife and a misconception of marriage if your marriage hinders you loving your wife. Similarly, if Christian religion is getting in the way of you loving Christ then, technically speaking, loving Christ is more important. But practically speaking, you are probably misunderstanding both what it means to love Jesus in this world and what the Christian religion is if you think you can somehow separate the two.
I guess the best I can say is that it appears that the baby was in the bathwater on this one and is now floundering in the yard with the soap suds; someone should probably go and retrieve him...